Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Half Guitars and Angel Wings

Thought I'd post "Aswang: Guitar," the second installment in my visual "Aswang" digital-art series. You may remember the first image from my 29 March 2009 post featuring my poem "Aswang."

I've always been fascinated by the manananggal monster, to me the most intriguing and horrifying of the various Filipino aswang types. The manananggal is a female vampire who can split off the top half of her body from the bottom half, grow wings, and feed on children, pregnant women — especially their favorite snack, the unborn fetus — through their vampiric tongues like straws: long, hollow, almost prehensile tubes that suck blood and what-all parts of you and me can be siphoned and suctioned away into the maw of the manananggal clinging like a fly to the ceiling rafters.

Fun, huh? Click on this image to be taken to a full-size version of the art in my deviantART site. To see the first in the series, click here.

About this second, new image . . . what can I say? I love Gibson SG guitars. I love the color blue. I love to laugh. I love a good shudder, a satisfying frisson.

Take care, now. Don't let anything fly in the window and perch on your ceiling. Especially if it seems to have a long tongue. Sleep well.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Let's Celebrate National Poetry Month!

Friends, I've completely forgotten. So rude of me. Forgotten to invite you to my National Poetry Month event at the Cedar Falls Public Library tomorrow evening. (Actually, tonight since it's past 2:00 A.M. the same day as the event.)

I'm giving a reading of some of my own poems and then leading a discussion on poetry at the Cedar Falls Public Library on Monday night (25 April 2011) at 7:00 P.M. (The Facebook event page says the event runs till 10:00 but it won't go on that long.)

(Click on this image to see a larger version you can read.)

See you there? Hope so. If you can't make it, please leave a comment below. Actually, leave a comment below anyway. Take care!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Unknown Muse in a Coffeehouse: An Interview with Andrew Oldham

It's my honor and pleasure today to interview Andrew Oldham, one of the brightest and most memorable British poetic voices of today. Lapwing Publications, a renowned poetry press in Belfast, Ireland, published his collection Ghosts of a Low Moon in 2010. I was delighted to publish Andrew's poem "Costa Coffee Girl" in the North American Review two years ago, in 2009; that poem appears in the book and I am even more delighted now to have the opportunity to discuss it with him.

I'm also glad today to draw your attention to the important blog How a Poem Happens. In each "episode" of this blog award-winning poet Brian Brodeur selects a poem by a contemporary writer and interviews that writer about her or his process in writing that poem. Brian has borrowed his method from the late Alberta Turner, who pioneered this interview procedure in two books she edited: 50 Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process (1977), and 45 Contemporary Poems: The Creative Process (1985).

Brian’s interview questions differ from Alberta's but he has kept the spirit of her project: to entice poets to reveal their particular modes and processes in writing poetry. One of Brian's questions is particularly provocative: "What is American about this poem?" Since Andrew is British, I was very interested to see how he would field this question, especially given that Ghosts of a Low Moon contains a long poetic sequence titled "American Vignettes."

For the most part in my interview with Andrew I kept Brian's questions verbatim and in order, except that I inserted a new final question, "What is British about this poem?" in place of Brian's usual ending question, "Was this poem finished or abandoned?" Many thanks to Brian for allowing me to borrow his format. Below you'll know which questions come from How a Poem Happens — they'll be underlined.

All right, as the Tenth Doctor was fond of saying, allons-y! Here’s the poem Andrew and I will be discussing:

Costa Coffee Girl
(Deansgate, Manchester)
by Andrew Oldham
She wipes down the tables, stifles yawns and tears,
a damp cloth skims away the coffee cup rings,
the tense fingerprints, the ghost whorls of
business meetings, lovers tentative touches and
breakups, ladies who lunch, lone men
who pretend to read books but watch her
move, licking their lips, the bitter
acrid taste of mocha latte, cappuccino and frescato,
over the gums and down the gullet, the grain
of their teeth beneath their tongue, they flash
a stained smile and without a pause she wipes it away.

From Ghosts of a Low Moon (Belfast: Lapwing, 2010)

VG:   Andrew, as I mentioned earlier to you, I'm borrowing from the blog How a Poem Happens by drawing my questions from Brian Brodeur's interview format. Here we go. When was this poem composed? How did it start?

AO:   This is actually one of the earliest poems in Ghosts of a Low Moon, it was originally composed in 2006 and I started writing it in Costa Coffee in Manchester, England. I remember it had just opened in a popular bookshop chain that I won't mention as I do not approve of large chains of anything. I put that down to old age or the realisation that every high street looks the same no matter what country you're in now. I am a grouch or maybe I miss the smell of really good second hand bookshops that you can just dip into.

I stopped off to grab a seat not a coffee, rebellious in a way that only the English seem to do well. A passive aggression bookmarked with, 'Oh, I didn’t realise you had to buy something to sit here, I am so sorry', and cemented with a feeling of smugness and superiority as you depart in grandeur your shopping bags smacking every chair as you leave. It is a trait I deplore in myself but I was tired and there were seats. The seat I selected was by the window, tucked in an alcove, so I wouldn't need to have that uncomfortable conversation about buying something to sit there. There I sat, there I wrote in my notebook and there I saw her; she wasn't even serving, she cleared the tables, scrubbed the floors, re-arranged the chairs, the girl.

VG:   How many revisions did this poem undergo? How much time elapsed between the first and final drafts?

AO:   This is the only poem that came fully formed. I watched these events happen, wrote them down, the girl wiping down the tables, the middle aged men that flirted with her, the wives that just barely tolerated her. The girl herself bored of it all.

The coffee listed in the poem was on offer that week and the signs were everywhere. The only lie in the poem is that I don’t drink coffee, don’t know what it tastes like.

There is a distinct rhythm to places that people are served in. I discovered that when I was bartender in a hotel. There is ritual, movement and musicality.

I had never had a poem come fully formed before and it quite scared me. I sat on it for months. I even tinkered with it but when I did it lost that lyrical movement, that raw and bitter edge; it lost the movement of the girl in the poem and became more about me.

This is her poem, whoever she was, whatever she became. I never saw her again. I don’t want to. I don’t need to know the rest of her story. I just want this moment. Just this tiny act of rebellion.

This is a poem for anyone who has ever served anyone and heard the same joke, the same flirtations, the same complaints, day after day, month after month.

VG:   That's quite a striking thing you said just now. I'll have to share it with my daughter Amelia, who's a cocktail waitress. I'll report back to you what she says. Indeed, "the same joke, the same flirtations." I've never been a waitperson and never thought of it quite this way, though I probably should have. I'm afraid I'm probably that guy who makes waitpeople roll their eyes up, but only their mind's eyes because of the tip.

AO:   You are not alone.

VG:   Okay, back to the How a Poem Happens structure: Do you believe in inspiration? How much of this poem was "received" and how much was the result of sweat and tears?

AO:   Well, with 'Costa Coffee Girl' it was inspired by just watching. I received the poem because of the events that unfolded before me and the location I was in. It may not have worked at a market or even in another bookshop or coffee franchise. That was just dumb luck.

Many of my poems come through redrafting early ideas, taking them in new directions. In Ghosts of a Low Moon there is a sequence of poems called 'American Vignettes,' though the initial idea for that came easily, write what you see, write what you hear, it would have been a jumbled mess if I hadn't taken time out to re-edit, pull out poems, ditch others, look for a common thread to explore. It is still a poem that I could tinker with.

I could keep on tinkering with all my poems but that's the nature of being a writer, looking for perfection. I don't think this exists, I think readers sometimes say it does but writers never do. If writers achieve perfection it is a lot to live up to.

So I sweat, so I cry, and when I am sick of the poem, when I can no longer look it in the face, it goes in a drawer, it sits there for a week, a month or a year depending on how much I have come to loathe it. If I look at it again and think I can see what I once liked in it, I can see that it works as a poem, it goes out into the world and then it belongs to readers and not me.

VG:   How did this poem arrive at its final form? Did you consciously employ any principles of technique?

AO:   As I said earlier, this poem came fully formed. I did consider the act of rhythm in this poem rather than thinking of it as a sonnet or a pantoum.

VG:   I'm remembering now that I asked you in the proof stage of publishing this poem if you could be persuaded to add a possessive apostrophe to the word "lovers" . . . and I recall that you were quite adamant about not doing that. Could you remind me of your reasons again? I can see now, as a reader of the poem rather than an editor, that without that apostrophe, a reading is made possible that the girl is "skim[ming] away" not only the "tentative touches and / breakups" but also the "lovers" themselves, metaphorically.

AO:   That's absolutely right. I wanted to make it clear that the girl was at the centre of this world and everything could be wiped away by her boredom.

VG:   How long after you finished this poem did it first appear in print?

AO:   It sat in a drawer for quite a while and first got published in the North American Review in the Spring of 2009.

VG:   I'd like to go on record here how proud I am to have unveiled this poem to the world, if you will. I recall still how vividly this poem spoke to me when I first read it, probably because I am a coffee drinker and spend a fair amount of time in coffeehouses (clichéd as that may be for poets). I was also struck quite strongly by how much dignity and poise you afford to the girl. As you know, so often these days, writers "beat up" on their characters. So, bravo!

AO:   Thank you, those are kind words. I try to avoid beating my characters up, I think we have enough of that in real life. It is up to the reader to do the beating not the writer. I'm not a preacher or a politician. I am not going to tell a reader what they should think of me or my writing. Once the poem is written, once the text is out there, it is unbound and belongs to the reader not the writer.

VG:   How long do you let a poem "sit" before you send it off into the world? Do you have any rules about this or does your practice vary with every poem?

AO:   On average my poems spend around six months in a drawer. I edit them from one week to one month, and in one case, two years (I gave up on that one and it never made it into any drawer but made a more successful shopping list). The practice varies from poem to poem, each poem has its needs, each poem is different and that means I can spend different times on each.

Unlike my fiction writing, I can only edit one poem at a time, hence the need to edit, put in a drawer and move to the next one. This means I can often find a glut of them after six months hanging around my office. I send them out to clear out the drawers for some more.

VG:   Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?

AO:   This poem is a factual event. As the writer I step in to condense the time I sat there. I sat in the coffee shop for around one hour. My wife was shopping, preparing big plans for our wedding that took place later that year. I needed to step in when writing the piece to bring all these images, and those moments played out over that one hour into an easy-to-read, fit-in-your-pocket type of poem. It needed to be that because that's how we see people who serve us, those faces behind the counters, those voices in the drive thrus, those name badges we never read, they are all fit-in-your-pocket people, we use them, we move on. I know that sounds harsh but I have been on that side of the fence and no one ever remembered my name or my face. They took their change and put it in their pocket and moved on. I wanted to twist it around, so that the girl is the centre of this universe rather than the customer.

VG:   Is this a narrative poem?

AO:   Yes. I suspect it is.

VG:   Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you'd care to disclose?

AO:   I was reading Ruthven Todd and Basil Bunting.

VG:   Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?

AO:   No. My readers come in all shapes and sizes. I just want to tell them a good story.

VG:   Did you let anyone see drafts of this poem before you finished it? Is there an individual or a group of individuals with whom you regularly share work?

AO:   Yes, my wife used to read all my poems when I first started writing. Not so much anymore. Not because I don't trust her opinion but because I like the surprise on her face when she reads the published piece. That is worth more than just giving her a crumpled piece of paper with a few scribblings on. I still talk to her about ideas and she always tells me whether they're interesting. The other day she was clearing out some of her things and came across some letters I wrote to her when I lived in Wales, she started asking me whether I'd written that story and those poems I mentioned in those letters. They were eight years old! The wonderful thing was that I'd never noted those ideas in any of my notebooks and that those ideas must have been in that moment, as I wrote those letters, and they were good ideas. Just shows that you never know.

The only other person who sees my work is the poet Ian Parks, he has to some extent influenced my lyrical style and pushed me to select images that are more universal, that address the reader directly.

VG:   How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?

AO:   I suppose in style it is extremely concise. It is an anti-love poem or a leave-me-alone-and-let-me-do-my-job-without-hitting-on-me kind of poem.

VG:   What is American about this poem?

AO:   The 'ladies who lunch' is a direct reference to Stephen Sondheim's musical Company. I think that this influences the poem, the same level of bitterness stalks through the lines. There is a tinge of Elaine Stritch’s voice to it.

VG:   Fascinating to me how factually you answer here, Andrew. I thought you would say something about Walt Whitman, if not in this poem, in the rest of Ghosts of a Low Moon, where quite a few of your poems use a sort of loping, devil-may-care long sentence as well as long line like Whitman. In fact, in "American Vignettes," you include an imitation of Allen Ginsberg, unarguably the inheritor of the Whitmanesque style and sensibility. I wonder if the Whitman connection I can envision so clearly is one of those things that other people see in our poems but are invisible to us while we’re writing.

AO:   I've never thought of that before. Certainly, Whitman has influenced my work along with the likes of Wallace Stevens. I appreciate American poetry as it tries to set its own rules and break away from an European literary canon or adapt that canon. I like the long line as I think it lends itself to a narrative poem, builds images and voice. It also appeals to me to break some poetry rules and push the line as long as I can without it becoming short fiction.

I appreciate it when readers see something I don't see. Writers read and those influences sink into our subconscious and often we are not aware of them. I am often not aware of the influences that rise to the surface in my poetry but I am glad in this case that it was Whitman!

VG:   What is British about this poem?

AO:   Everything, even though the coffee franchise is probably American, the coffee is probably South American, the furniture is from Sweden, the people in the poem are purely English and I mean that by defining a certain stereotype within the British community. It sums up the awkward nature of that first flirt and only the English would think a good flirt technique is just to smile whilst hiding behind a book.

VG:   Thanks for the lovely interview, Andrew. I hope you sell truckloads of books . . . lorryfuls of books.

AO:   Thanks, Vince. I appreciate you taking out time to talk with me.

VG:   And thanks again to Brian Brodeur for his useful set of questions. Do check out his cool blog.

You can purchase Andrew Oldham's
Ghosts of a Low Moon as a hardcopy collection (£10 / $16.27) or as an e-book (£5 / $8.14) at Lapwing Publications' online store or via the shop at Andrew's website at, where signed copies are available.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nathan D and the Sestina Family

A couple of years ago, you may remember, I blogged about the sestina, an intricate medieval poetic form, in a post on my poem "Vietnam Era Vet." Well, it probably won't surprise you that I assign my poetry-writing students at the University of Northern Iowa to write sestinas. And for the most part (at least so I always thought) the students are okay with the form. This semester, in my Beginning Poetry Writing course, it didn't work out quite that way. Several people had quite a tough battle with the sestina. Here's a poem by my student Nathan that deals with that issue in simply hilarious ways.

  My Love of the Sestina

                by Nathan Dahlhauser

  Over-structuring is the heart of the sestina.
  I suppose to say that I hate sestinas
  may be a tad harsh, but the thing with a sestina
  is that, for one, they are so damned repetitive. Sestinas
  may be seen as "classical," to some, but let's be honest. A sestina
  is just a sestina. I say, "Fuck the sestina!"

  You may ask of me, "Sir, why are you so angry? Sestinas
  are just another form of poetry. What did the sestina
  ever do to you?" First off, sestinas
  use the same words over and over again. I'm using the word "sestina"
  to illustrate how annoying this can be. Here comes another. SESTINA.
  Would you like me to use a different word? Nope, I'm now bound to use "sestina."

  Second, there is very little room to convey emotion or meaning in a sestina
  because it is the same words being used. Even in the times where sestinas
  do get a message across, the word choices feel so forced. Sestina.
  See, I had to end that line with the word "sestina"
  because I set myself up for it in the first stanza. All the sestina
  does is constrict a poem's motion, much like a tiny room sestina

  that resembles a sub-stair broom closet. Sure, I'm being childish and sestina
  poking fun at the fat kid in second grade, but I'm not the only one, sestina
  NO ONE LIKES HIM! He’s a big FAT fart face! That is the sestina
  for you, in a nutshell. Are you as tired of this sestina
  as I am? Jesus! Buddha! Allah! By the beard of Zeus! Sestinas
  make me curse their maker and their maker's maker by sestina

  association. Thank my lucky stars I'm nearly finished with this damned poem!
  Shit, did I just slip there and use "damned poem" rather than "sestina"?
  Fuck it, it works regardless. "Damned poem," "stupid form of poetry,"
  they are both synonyms for that single word. Sestina.
  I'm just about done. This here is the last stanza of the ONLY sestina
  I will write in my lifetime. What? One MORE stanza!? Fucking poem!

  That'll work as well, I suppose. Forgive me if I make this sestina
  even more cynical. I've had about enough of the aforementioned word.
  Much like Jan speaking of Marcia, I just want to scream to anyone saying sestina,

  I hate Sestina’s family. I hate its sister, Sestina. I hate its brother, also named Sestina.
  I hate its parents. Who names three children ALL Sestina?
  Fuck you, Sestina! I hope you go to hell and burn with Satan’s sister, Sestina.

Brilliant, don't you think? And you might quite easily feel the same as Nathan if you had looked up sestina in Wikipedia, say, and learned what the word-cycling pattern is called: retrogradatio cruciata. Doesn't that remind you of the Cruciatus Curse in Harry Potter, which "inflicts unbearable pain on the recipient of the curse" (Wikipedia)? Unbearable pain, indeed!

Nathan's genius touch here is in his repetons (the technical name of the repeated words . . . sorry). Instead of choosing six words, he uses only one. Wow. And how he uses them, that's brilliant too. I was asking all the wrong questions: Was he punning on the word "stanza" (Italian for room) at the end of the third stanza? In the second line of the fourth stanza, was "sestina" standing in for the word "because"? Nope, Nathan said. Just throwing in the word "sestina." 'Cause he had to. Comic genius.

Okay, that's it for today. Hope you learned some schtuff about poetic craft. Like the rich consonance at the end of Nathan's poem: the instances of s, t, and n sounds in "Satan's sister, Sestina." Meh. I hope, even better, you had a good laugh. Word.

No. Sestina.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Abducted, Boosted, Carjacked, Duped, Embezzled ... !

Today, I googled my own name, just for fun — you do it, too, don't ya? — and I found an interview of me that had never happened! To tell the truth, I was pretty jazzed, like the time I found out an online term-paper mill was selling a research paper on one of my poems. But I digress . . . let's go back a couple of years to get the whole story on the mystery interview.

On 12 April 2009, Linda Sue Grimes interviewed me on the website Suite 101, under the title "Interview with Vince Gotera / Poet, Editor, Professor, Blogger." Below is a reduced screencap of that particular webpage, followed by a printout of Linda's very generous introduction and then her opening question. (Click on the image to see the webpage screencap at full size.)

The important American poet, Vince Gotera, edits the oldest literary review
in the United States; Thomas Jefferson was a subscriber!

In addition to his editorial duties at the North American Review, which was
founded in 1815, Vince Gotera also serves as professor in the Department
of English Language and Literature at the University of Northern Iowa.

Vince’s poems have appeared in numerous literary journals. He has published
three books of poetry, Fighting Kite, Ghost Wars, Dragonfly, and a book
of criticism, Radical Visions: Poetry by Vietnam Veterans. He blogs at The Man
with the Blue Guitar

LSG: How and when did you get started with poetry?

Now, on to what I found through Google today. Below you'll see what appeared in a website called My Custom Writer Blog, using the exact same interview title, on 25 September 2010, a year and a half later.

The portentous American poet, Vince Gotera, edits the oldest literary review
in the United States; Thomas Jefferson was a subscriber!

In extra to his editorial duties at the North American Review, which was
founded in 1815, Vince Gotera also serves as schoolteacher in the Department
of English Language and Literature at the University of Northern Iowa.

Vince’s poems have appeared in frequent literary journals. He has published
three books of poetry, Fighting Kite, Ghost Wars, Dragonfly, and a book
of criticism, Radical Visions: Poetry by Vietnam Veterans. He blogs at The Man
with the Blue Guitar.

LSG: How and when did you get started with poetry?

No hyperlinks, no italics, no boldface. Some words have been changed (shown in red above), to inhibit being found out, I suppose. The alterations are simply hilarious, ROTFL to the max. I'm "portentous"? Look that up . . . it means I'm bad news, a disaster waiting to befall someone. I always try to be good news, to be a long drink of cool water. Yes, I teach, but "schoolteacher"? Not quite. The other two are funny too, don't you think? For clumsiness alone, if not for other reasons you can psych out.

Okay, so then I wondered: why rip off my interview? How could my talking about poetry, of all things, cause greenbacks to flitter from some schlub's wallet into the blogger's? Well, what I figured out was not all that flattering, I gotta say. Nothing to do with my writerly reputation or literary accomplishments blah blah.

In the bogus interview, Linda's question "How and when did you get started with poetry?" doesn't get answered. Instead what follows is this name: "vince del monte"; when you click on the name, you're whisked off to a website advertising a "fast" muscle-building program pioneered by, you guessed it, Vince Del Monte. I don't know if Mr. Del Monte knows how potential customers are being routed to his website, but the reason my interview was stolen is that Mr. Del Monte and I share the same first name. And maybe poets are notorious for needing their muscles built. And built fast. Who knows?

You poets out there, though, and anybody else reading this, you decide for yourself if you want Mr. Del Monte building your muscles. Fast. You can probably guess on which side of the proverbial fence I'm gonna end up here. I'm just sayin' . . .

Seriously, though, the problem of online content theft is huge and thorny. Just google "online content theft" or some similar phrase, maybe "stolen blog content," and you'll see that a whole lot of virtual ink has been spilled here. And maybe some virtual blood too. All I can say is this: if you get the heebie-jeebies when you're reading a blog or website, if the hackles on your neck raise up because there seems to be weirdness in/with the text, go spend your money somewhere else. Some writer(s) are getting ripped off.

Though it does seem perversely cool that someone bothered to nick a poet's words. It's strangely refreshing that someone cared enough. Though of course they cared for all the wrong reasons. Not for love of literature but rather lust for lucre, illicit and immoral moolah. (Ain't alliteration fun?)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Deviancy in 3 Dimensions

I AM A DEVIANT. I must confess. Yes, I am. And I have been for a whole month now. It's true.

What I'm talking about is that I am a new — or fairly new — member of deviantART, an international social network for artists . . . would-be, new, emerging, established, whatever. My little node, my deviant identity, in this network is vincegotera. Yep, that's me.

You can do a lot of über-cool things on deviantART: for one, you can upload your own art, called "deviations." I now have 10 deviations (don't know if they're art, really, but there they are). Actually 9 plus a photograph of me I'm using as my "deviantID" . . . it's from a time a coupla years back when I shaved off my mustache. I hated the way it — no, I — looked and you'll see how I kinda solved that problem at that time — at least for the picture, which I used as my facebook photo then. It's also a tribute of sorts to one of my favorite artists.

Something I've learned about recently while strolling the avenues of deviants and boulevards of deviations is 3D images (or stereograms) . . . called "free-view" because you can see them in 3D without special glasses. Remember those Magic Eye puzzles that were all the rage a few years ago? Where you gaze at an apparently abstract image and then out of it resolves a "secret" picture that not everyone can see? If you ever learned how to make those hidden images appear, you already know you do it by crossing your eyes. (These stereograms I'm learning about are also called "cross-view" or "crosseye-view" images.)

As part of my new "deviancy," I've started making such "crosseye-view" stereograms. Here's my first one, "Exhaling Dissolution 3D." (Click on the image to go to its deviantART page, where I have instructions on how to view it in 3D.)

My subject here is the huge wood-and-metal sculpture by Sarah Deppe, a BFA student at the University of Northern Iowa. It's quite a tribute to Sarah that her sculpture — titled "Exhaling Dissolution" — is permanently featured in a courtyard on campus. For those of you who can't simply walk over to see this twelve-foot-tall behemoth head, I hope my stereogram can give you a feeling for its glorious humongousness, its driftwoody enormity. Click on one of the heads above; you'll be amazed.

Thanks for letting me "3D" your baby, Sarah. Friends, watch for Sarah Deppe's art in the future . . . you'll hear of her again, I guarantee.

Here's another stereogram project of mine on deviantART, a "WIP" or work-in-progress. What you see below are two versions — one with background, one with. Knowing the name of my blog, you'll appreciate my interest in this project.

Please click on the guitars directly above and you'll be able to access the two versions. I'd really love to hear which one version works for you (both 3D-wise and otherwise) and why. Please leave your comments on the 3D blue guitar pages in deviantART rather than here. Thanks for your help!

Back to the über-cool things you can do on deviantART: they let you compile a collection of other people's artwork (sorry, other "deviants' deviations") and "curate" an exhibition of these objets d'art in your profile. For example, I have a slowly growing little anthology of images that center on the color blue, which I call "Blues." Perhaps not the cleverest of titles, but I'm rather deviantly proud of how it's a musical pun. I am also collecting art pieces on the Filipino monster, the aswang (you might know my poem on that subject). Also images of guitars, of dragons, of steampunk artifacts. Lots more, LOTS more.

I hope you'll come and visit my deviantART profile. You'll have a blast. And leave me comments all over the place there. Oh, while we're on the subject, do leave me a comment below as well, please. You'll make me one very happy deviant.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Carrie Arizona's Altered-Page Found Poems

Do you know about "altered books"?

Around the late 1970s and 1980s, a "grassroots" art movement began in which people would save books that might otherwise have been thrown away and would turn them into works of art. Glue, glitter, collage, paint, pencil, pastel, sculpture even . . . these are the materials these artists would use to change these books from mass-produced, disposable things to one-off, highly personalized objets d'art. I mention sculpture because an altered-book artist might, for example, cut out a cubic enclosure inside the book, out of many pages perhaps, and maybe suspend something like a small nail-polish-red papier-mache heart within that space.

Sometimes people would do this with only one page, perhaps torn out of such a book, and this would become a free-standing artifact . . . in other words, a poem, a found poem. As the Altered Books website puts it: "Find poems in the pages by the process of obliteration." Find the words that will make up your poem in the page at hand, maybe in order down the page or left to right, circle them (let's say), and "obliterate" the rest of the text on that page: cross out lines of text, draw an image over areas of the page, whatever. Look at the Altered Books website (link a couple of sentences back) for some examples. I gotta tell ya the altered pages you'll see there seem quite slapdash, clumsy, not really artful at all. The website's endorsement of the word "obliterate" in this context suggests violence to the text, to the page . . . a confrontation between the purpose of the original writer of these words and the artistic intent of the mixed-media altered-books artist. One would think some delicacy would be called for, a commitment to beauty, to some sort of unified vision.

Well, look at the example to the right. That's an altered page from the artist Carrie Arizona ( . . . notice how her black "cross-outs" start at the top left of the page and meander down to the bottom right, clearly an echo of the way we read in Western culture, left to right, up to down. The page has been converted into a pleasant cascade of organic shapes, bubbles in which are revealed Carrie's found poem. The wonderful thing about this poem is that it's a great poem, a — to use technical poetics lingo — a kick-ass poem. The page has not just yielded up, via Carrie's hand, a beautiful visual pattern; the poetic text she's culled from the page is profound, intelligent, and pleasingly defamiliarizing (that is, it helps us see our everyday lives and reality in new, surprising, potentially delightful, ways). Like all excellent poetry, it can both unsettle you and make you think, feel . . . have an experience that is both visual and textual.

Here is the page magnified so you can read the poem. Notice how Carrie even finds us punctuation in the page, as needed. The poem can also (should also) be experienced in its "natural habitat" (so to speak) on — an international social network for artists of all skills and backgrounds and cultures. Along with the image of the book page, Carrie also provides for us the text of the found poem:

            Beautiful Leech

Whoever you may be,
be as blood flowing
to a bleeding answer.

I am a wound
who lives on blood
like a beautiful leech.

And then below that Carrie adds, quite delightfully, "Nietzsche, of course." As far as I'm concerned, there's no US poet working with found poems and altered pages/books who can come close to the rich elegance and exquisiteness of Carrie's work. She rules, no question about it, friends.

I hope you can take some time to explore Carrie's deviantART gallery: paintings, collages, photographs, digital art, "regular" poems, and of course more found poems on altered pages. I always enjoy how beautiful these poems are, visually. Marvelous marvelous work.

Here is an intriguing self-portrait by Carrie; she can be an enigmatic, mysterious figure . . . the few self-portraits you'll find in Carrie's deviantART gallery don't give much away. Her pseudonyms, carrieola and Carrie Arizona, don't reveal much either, except that she lives in the state of Arizona. How about this . . . let it suffice to say that Carrie Arizona is a wonderful, talented artist. Let's leave it there, shall we?

P.S. If you'd like to find out more about altered books and found poetry, google the words altered, pages, books, found, and poetry in various combinations.

That the "altered books" art movement had been quite a strong force can be seen by the existence of a website titled Altered Books &mdash The International Society of Altered Book Artists (ISABA). This organization evidently dismantled itself only recently: December 2010. But you can still sneak into their gallery of altered books. Here's the back door that I found ajar.

And try to "write" one of these poems yourself, for National Poetry Month! Have fun.

Note added 7 May 2011: Carrie's work is featured today in an art exhibit.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tornado and Candy House in a Matchbook

I was fortunate recently to publish a poem in a magazine called Matchbook. This magazine's title is truth in advertising to the max. Each copy of each issue of Matchbook literally appears as — is bound in — a vintage matchbook. My two contributor's copies of the issue with my poem have for their covers two matchbooks, one telling us to visit Lyman's Country Shop in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the other advertising the "proved safety, earnings, and availability of savings" at the Des Moines Savings and Loan. Old-timey matchbooks that look like they're from the 1960s, maybe even the 1950s or older. S&Ls started up during the Depression, didn't they? Early 1930s, I believe.

Matchbook magazine is the brainchild of poet Friedrich Kerksieck, founder of Small Fires Press. This small press (see Friedrich's clever pun in the press name?) publishes, along with Matchbook, poetry chapbooks and broadsides printed on a letterpress, an almighty Vandercook Press and Photopolymer Plate Maker. Not only is Friedrich the CEO, editor,and publisher, he is also the designer, proofreader, copyeditor, fact-checker, pressman, binder, salesperson, webmaster, troubleshooter, and sweeper-upper.

When I think about Friedrich driving that letterpress, I imagine him as a helmsman manhandling a frigate through a monsoon on the high seas . . . all the while also having to be the Captain, First Mate, Quartermaster, ship's doctor, cabin boy, cook, all sailors before the mast, and also any and all mutineers! Oops. Sorry about that romanticized, even sentimental moment. I loved pirate novels as a child (and maybe still!).

Anyway, about once a year or so (sometimes less often), Friedrich entertains submissions to Matchbook. Because of the actual size of matchbooks, length requirements are pretty stringent. Small Fire Press's submission guidelines specify that poems must be no longer than 24 lines that are no longer than 22 characters (including spaces). Prose can be as many as 48 lines. Artwork must be reproducible in black and white in a square space that's 1.25" X 1.25" . . . whew. The current issue — volume 3, published in 2011 — contains both poems and illustrations. Quite a feat of editing and publishing. Watch for Friedrich's next call for submissions, probably in 2012 . . . before the Mayan end of the world, let's hope.

At the right is a photo of one of my poem's pages in Matchbook and also the title page in another matchbook (kind of a blurry shot . . . sorry). I really should invest in a good macro lens.

Below is the poem itself, which focuses on a traumatic event that happened in nearby Parkersburg, Iowa: an F5 tornado in May 2008 that battered the town and the surrounding area, damaging over 400 homes and buildings. I dedicate this appearance of the poem to the many people who were injured. And also to the eight who died that day . . . may they rest in peace.

Iowa, 2008

The twister tears off
the Andressens' first
floor, the basement

ceiling. Just below,
a toddler screaming.
Skinny legs pointed

up at the dull flank
of the tornado. Dad’s
hands clamped, vise

grips on her wrists,
his legs gnarled
around a newel post.

Then the wind whirls
somewhere else, tiny
Jennie forgotten.

Her skirt flops like
a lofted tablecloth.
Wisps of paper

and plastic drift
from acetylene sky
onto a concrete floor.

Vince Gotera, first appeared in Matchbook III, 2011.
I'd like to show you another poem from Matchbook III, "The House Is Made of Candy" by Jasmine Dreame Wagner — poet, fiction writer, artist (photography, drawing, collage, books), musician (singer-songwriter, drums, guitar, piano, you-name-it) and ______fill in the blank . . . I bet she does it!

I first met Jasmine when she submitted "Paradelle for a Girl in a Coma" to the North American Review. I was delighted and honored to publish it. The paradelle is a notoriously difficult poetic form, invented in 1997 by former poet laureate Billy Collins as a joke: a form that would be close to impossible (so damn hard no one would ever try). A comment on and a parody of the enterprise of writing poetry in closed forms. Well, joke or no joke, since then quite a few poets have written successful paradelles, undaunted by the form's recalcitrance and complexity, and one of the most accomplished of these adventuresome souls is Ms. Wagner.

Okay, here is Jasmine's Matchbook poem. Enjoy!

The House Is Made of Candy

The house
is made of candy,
and it might be raining.

The ceiling
leak, its caramel

I am gliding
through its corridors.

I am through
with smiling

at you as though
you'd just gotten off
an airplane.

Jasmine Dreame Wagner, from Matchbook III, 2011.
To find out more about Jasmine and her many endeavors and escapades, check out her websites: her personal one, titled songs about ghosts; her music project, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities; her psychedelic garage rock band, Son Cats; her entrepeneurial "mini-empire" (as she jokingly puts it), For Arbors / For Satellites. Google jasmine dreame wagner . . . there are many more sites to explore. Quite an adventure just finding out about Jasmine!

As you know, I frequently talk about poetic craft in the blog as well. Maybe something really small here: in "Confetti" I worked hard at using sharp and quickly registered images, for example, the closing "Wisps of paper // and plastic drift / from acetylene sky / onto a concrete floor" (mad props there to Hart Crane). Notice too, in Jasmine's poem, her delicious image "caramel / intricacies," focusing on both taste and color (too often imagery in contemporary writing refers only to sight). Okay, lesson over, 'nuff said.

Go write a poem. It's National Poetry Month! Need a nudge to begin? Check out Robert Lee Brewer's blog Poetic Asides: each day during National Poetry Month, he provides a prompt, an "assignment" sorta . . . 30 days, 30 poems. Today, April 3, Robert says, "write a poem in which you imagine the world without you." Ready, set, go!

P.S. If you feel like trying to write a paradelle, start by looking at the first one by Billy Collins. Ron Kowit has put online a small anthology of successful paradelles. Another notable example is "A Paradelle for Donald Rumsfeld" by Ronald Wallace; this poem shows how the paradelle can lend itself to quite serious subjects. Good luck!

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